New technology to give sector a shot in the arm as more rural areas set to benefit
The State Council"s recent guideline on promoting health services using internet technologies gives the green light to internet services conducted by medical institutions, and is expected to help high quality resources benefit wider areas, while the application of related regulations should be urged, officials and experts said.
The guideline, focusing on "Internet Plus healthcare", was issued by the State Council on April 28. It makes clear that internet technologies should be used to offer medical and public health services, promote family doctor practices, improve drug supply and medical bill settlement, carry out medical education, and provide artificial intelligence services.
The internet hospital modalities will be applied, the guideline said.
Pan Jiyang, director of the psychology department of No 1 Hospital affiliated to Jinan University in Guangzhou, said the new guideline is part of a broader push in the central government efforts in promoting Internet Plus healthcare, and will have a big impact on the existing medical system.
"Internet services in medical consulting has already emerged. For example, the remote medical consultation center of the Fudan University"s affiliated Huashan Hospital, has been established," Pan said. "Yet the complicated thing is that, currently, medical services are separated from medical consultations. The guideline is expected to bridge the gap between the two to help internet medical services to become more systematic."
Pan noted that to realize the development of internet hospitals, it is equally important to see enhanced efforts in related laws and regulations, payment channels, etc, and these need to be tackled step-by-step instead of all at once.
"Not all kinds of diseases are best treated in internet hospitals, and not all doctors are capable of providing internet-based medical services," Pan said. "Therefore, efforts are required to nurture internet based medical services, and a good and comprehensive development of internet hospitals needs about three to five years to nurture."
During this process, protecting personal information will be vitally important, Pan said. The new guideline encourages better sharing of health information, improving hospital management and services, and strengthened oversight of medical services and data security. At the same time, enhance efforts are required to use internet technologies to improve levels of healthcare in poor areas and border regions, the guideline stressed.
The guideline was approved during a State Council executive meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang on April 12. During that meeting, Li stressed that as China joins the ranks of middle-income countries, the demand for health services has increased substantially, and "Internet Plus Healthcare" can help alleviate the problem of inaccessible and expensive public health services that have long been a major concern for the general public.
The Healthy China 2030 Blueprint released by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council in 2016 stated that efforts will be made to foster new industries, new forms and models of business in the health sector and the development of internet-based health services. "One problem developing internet-based health services is that most people in China believe in "renowned doctors", and the demand for particularly well-known doctors is huge. This may lead to a phenomenon that in the early stage of internet medical services, most people will go online only for treating minor diseases," Song said.
Third-party organizations, once qualified, will be encouraged to conduct internet-based consulting services and health-managing services to achieve an effective interaction among hospitals, medical staff, and patients, the new guideline said.
Zeng Yixin, deputy head of the National Health Commission, told at a policy briefing hosted by the State Council Information Office in April that management of healthcare services needs to be improved by better implementing Internet Plus Healthcare, and this should be realized through optimizing resource distribution and innovating management models with higher efficiency and lower costs.
A service system will be established to promote integration in areas such as public health, privately contracted doctors, medical supplies and medical insurance reimbursement settlement, Zeng said, adding that medical reforms should be deepened and more internet-based procedures introduced to solve the problem.
Jiao Yahui, deputy director of the department of health policies and management under the commission, said that there are two modes of internet-based hospitals. One is a medical organization entity that will serve as the main body of the hospital, while the organization uses internet platforms as well as information technology that will be applied to expand its medical services. The other type is a medical-platform entity created by internet companies, while medical resources and information will be gathered on the platform.
Noting that many hospitals have now developed their own applications, where patients can register, consult and make appointments online, she said that this has helped pool resources across different hospitals to easily make appointments for patients, she said.
This is expected to promote effective communication between hospitals, doctors and patients, she said. "However, all internet hospitals must have a real hospital entity, and services both online and offline should be supervised," Jiao stressed.